Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Archive for August 2012

Science Policy Around the Web – August 30, 2012

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By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

NIH Principal Investigators Are Getting Old – Daniel Lende on the Neuroanthropology blog points out the perhaps-disturbing trend in the the newest numbers on the age of NIH-funded scientific investigators (hint, it’s going up):  “The distribution of money has changed, not just the age distribution of researchers, and that has serious consequences for who stays in research-intensive careers, what ideas and initiatives get supported, and what sorts of solutions actually get generated from all those research dollars.”

Gene Blues – Seth Mnookin covers at The New Yorker an interesting study investigating the number of mutations in the sperm of older vs. younger men.  As men get older, the number of new mutations in their sperm cells goes up, increasing the number of mutations inherent in their offspring.  This might not sound like science policy, but this is a classic example of how sociological and cultural changes can directly affect our gene pool and, thus, our health.

In Drought, Should Corn Be Food Or Fuel? – Minnesota Public Radio discusses how the drought this summer devastated the corn crop and also downstream industries such as biofuel manufacturing and the livestock industry.  As quoted in the article, “Jason Hill is a professor of bioproducts and biosystems engineering at the University of Minnesota. He says while roughly half of the nation’s corn supply this year will go to producing ethanol, that ethanol will make up only between 5 and 6 percent of the nation’s fuel consumption.”  Those numbers make some interesting food for thought.

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August 30, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – August 24, 2012

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By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

The Widespread Problem of Doctor Burnout – Emotionally exhausted, detached…and prone to errors.  A new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that nearly half of doctors have some sign of burnout and that emergency care and other front-line doctors are at highest risk.  As Pauline Chen suggests in the NY Times, this is particularly troubling given that we already have a doctor shortage and are about to add 30 million more people into the US health care system.

Forensic investigation needs more science – The Innocence Project has appealed to chemists to support standards and more rigorous scientific independence in forensic science.   The Project is hoping that scientists will lobby Congress in support of a proposed bill that would provide funding for forensic science research and require national standards for forensic testing.  (via Daniel Cressey in Nature)

Bias is Unavoidable – Lisa Cosgrove  in The Scientist points out that simply stating conflicts of interest is not sufficient to actually prevent bias in the scientific decision-making process.  She makes a good point that science has proven that what we expect (or what our paycheck depends upon) can affect the interpretation of scientific data and thus policy based upon that data.

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!

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August 24, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – Dying, Living, and Reproducing Edition – August 16, 2012

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By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Doctors Really Do Die Differently – “Drawing on my observations and experiences as a doctor, I reported that doctors tend to seek less end-of-life care than ordinary patients do. They know when further treatment is likely to be futile and when life would cease to be worth living. The point I wanted to make was that all of us should have the choice to die that way if we wish—at home, with family, without dramatic hospital interventions, without pain. […]  For every assertion of mine that was based on observation, I’ve looked for relevant scholarly evidence that might support or refute it.   Here is what I found.”   An excellent article by Dr. Ken Murray following up with facts and research to support his equally excellent 2011 article How Doctors Die.

Crowdsourcing the search for endangered species – an Emory University biologist has published a study in Science indicating that citizen groups are better at picking endangered species requiring Endangered Species Act-level protections than the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  (via Emory University)

New initiative aims to improve science’s track record – “…published studies whose findings cannot be reproduced appear to be on rise, and while some such studies are later retracted, many stand, collecting citations, either because no one has tried to replicate the data, or those who have, successfully or not, cannot get their studies published.  A new partnership by the start-up Science Exchange, an online marketplace for outsourcing experiments, and the open-access journal PLoS ONE hopes to address the issue of scientific reproducibility.”  An interesting initiative, but as I’ve heard in several places since this story hit the ‘net, “…who’s going to pay for that?”  (by Nina Bai via The Scientist)

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!

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August 16, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – Space Policy Edition – August 9, 2012

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By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Seems like a good week for some space policy.

Jay Barbree, the only journalist to have covered every manned US space mission, has penned an excellent set of opinion pieces on how space policy should be on the presidential nominees’ to-do list.  The five-part series is up on the NBC News website (scroll to the bottom for links to parts 2-5).

Barbree examines, among other issues, one that has hounded space policy since its inception:  sending anything into space, let alone rocketing to another planet or even further, is an incredibly expensive prospect.  However, the fruits of the space program are not merely pictures of Martian rocks and some bragging rights.  Barbree points out:

America’s space program has developed technologies that are being used in devices to detect blocked coronary arteries to prevent heart attacks, as well as in digital systems for medical imaging, laser angioplasty, programmable pacemakers, implantable heart aids, automatic insulin pumps, voice-controlled wheelchairs and invisible braces. In transportation, spaceflight has brought us better brakes, safer bridges and electric cars. In public safety, the benefits from NASA include radiation hazard detectors, emergency response robots, pen-sized personal alarm systems, life-saving air tanks for firemen and emergency rescuers. Let’s not forget the hundreds of computer technology benefits found in smartphones and other devices. The spin-offs extend to recreational gear, food packaging, environmental and resource management, industrial productivity and manufacturing technology.

And, as Rose Eveleth points out on the Smithsonian blog, the cost of the Curiosity mission (~$2.5 billion) is roughly a fifth of what is being spent on the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

I’m just as concerned about where my tax money goes as the next citizen, but I have to admit… I’m spending much more time watching Curiosity’s Twitter feed for the latest pictures from Mars than I am counting medals.  Opportunity’s beautiful Martian panorama photos from earlier in the year are getting (much-deserved) replay as well.

 

What do you think?  How high on the national agenda should US space policy be?  Sound off in the comments!

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August 9, 2012 at 4:41 pm

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Science Policy Around the Web – August 2, 2012

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By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

The Time is Right to Confront Misconduct – Scientific misconduct, from plagiarism to falsification of data to authors signing off on publications they haven’t read, has always been a problem.  However, several high-profile cases of misconduct in the past few years have led, Colin Macilwain says, to a shift in the scientific community’s perception and treatment of scientific misconduct.  (via Nature)

Let Academia Lead Space Science – This opinion piece by Daniel Baker (also in Nature) on big vs. small science in the space exploration field struck a chord with me, because I see the same discussion happening in biosciences.  As funding gets tighter, where should the money be allocated?  To large center-driven projects or small PI-driven projects?  Which gives the most scientific bang for the buck?

On Parenting, Science, and Trust–  “I trust scientists and doctors, because I have worked side-by-side with them for a decade, and I know that they are not only knowledgeable, but by and large, they are overwhelmingly good people.  At some point, you have to trust someone.  I trust scientists and doctors.”  Alice Callahan, scientist and mom, hits upon a major component of the public’s perception of science and health recommendations (particularly for children):  personal familiarity with and trust in not just nebulous “science and health authorities” but scientists and doctors.  (guest post on Double X Science)

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August 2, 2012 at 11:03 am